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Every April, America observes National Park Week, a perfect time to gather your road trip crew and go explore our treasured landscapes, and it all kicks off with free entry to all National Parks on April 17. But why stop at one? Simply start connecting the dots, driving from one park to the next to experience each location’s unique splendor until you’ve crossed the entire country. We’re in bucket-list territory now.

Beginning in Miami, we’ve crafted a 2,800-mile journey that allows you to hit some of the best parks from coast to coast. Buy your National Parks Pass, fuel up the car, and let’s go! (Since it will also be National Volunteer Week, add extra meaning to the trek by lending a helping hand along the way!)

RELATED: 8 great state park alternatives to National Parks

Day 1

From Miami, make your first stop at Everglades National Park. This 1.5 million-acre wonderland is the country’s largest subtropical wilderness and home to manatees, alligators, and the Florida panther. Bike the Snake Bight Trail, go slough slogging, or kayak the many waterways. You might just spot a gator.

Feeling the heat? Book a sizzling hot Miami hotel here.

Day 2

Your route then heads north along I-75 through Tampa Bay, turning westward on I-10 toward Tallahassee and into Pensacola. Find white sand beaches and warm Gulf waters at Pensacola Beach, then visit Jerry’s Drive In, the rumored home of the original bacon cheeseburger. They serve ’em up for under $5. Keep going and laissez les bon temps rouler (French for let the good times roll) a few hours later in New Orleans. Tradition calls for stopping by Café du Monde for world-famous beignets and a caffeine-fueled pick me up.

Sleep easy in the Big Easy. Book a N’Awlins hotel here.

Day 3

As they say, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” This includes a drive through the state, so mind your fatigue. It’s 900 miles from NOLA to Big Bend National Park, but the long drive includes highlights like Big Beau the alligator in Beaumont, the kooky Beer-Can House in Houston, and puffy tacos at Ray’s Drive Inn in San Antonio. At Big Bend, explore 150 miles of trails or soak your road-weary body in a geothermal hot spring. Be sure to also camp and enjoy one of the best night skies in the country. You won’t be disappointed.

Take a hike, then take a nap. Book a hotel near the park here.

Day 4

The following day, stop by Prada Marfa along US Hwy 90 outside artsy Marfa. This quirky roadside art installation is an Instagram must. From here you have two options: Reconnect with your old friend I-10 and hug the U.S. Mexico border en route to El Paso, or depending on time, head north on U.S. Route 54 to check off another park via a visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The desert and dunes, rugged mountains, and steep canyon walls are spectacular. No matter what route you choose, you will eventually reach Las Cruces, New Mexico. Hit the town for an epic green chile food trail known as the “Walk of Flame.”

Ready to flame out? Sleep tight in Las Cruces right here.

Day 5

Rise, shine and visit White Sands National Park. Dunes Drive leads into the heart of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Sledding down one of the dunes is also popular. Hiking gets you away from the crowd and is the best way to truly experience this unique and otherworldly landscape. Afterward, head to Truth or Consequences, a town named after a game show and home to quirky eateries and healing waters like Riverbend Hot Springs.

Catching forty winks? Book your T or C room right here.

Day 6

It’s a relatively straight shot across the state’s stunning desert to Arizona from here. When you start seeing billboards teasing mystery and wonder at The Thing up ahead, plan to stop. The Conspiracy Wall alone linking alien involvement in everything from Stonehenge to JFK’s assassination will leave you with more questions than answers all the way to Tucson. Once here, visit Saguaro National Park, a park split into two sections by the city. Check out prehistoric Native American petroglyphs at Signal Hill Petroglyph Site on the park’s west side. The east’s Tanque Verde Ridge trail (a half-mile hike) offers amazing views at sunset. Sleep it all off at the cheap and chic Downtown Clifton Hotel.

Find more Tucson room options here.

Day 7

From Tucson, it’s California dreaming time. Plan your remaining days on the road at Mel’s Diner in Phoenix. This off-the-beaten-path, old-time diner where breakfast is king is a necessity. Then, head for Joshua Tree National Park. It’s just over 300 miles away and the last park before you reach the Pacific. Traditional-style crack, slab, and steep face climbers are all welcome. So are mountain bikers, nature photographers, hikers, horseback riders, and dark sky enthusiasts. With its rich cultural history, surreal geologic features, and enough outdoor fun to keep anyone busy, this true desert wilderness makes for the ideal ending to a memorable National Parks adventure.

Stop Cali dreaming and start sweet dreaming. Book a room here.

Tagged: California, Destinations, Florida, New Orleans

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